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County to hire experts to study building needs

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GREENFIELD — Surprise expenses for roofs, heating systems and more could be kept at bay if all of the county’s government buildings are analyzed for bricks-and-mortar repairs that could arise in the near future, county officials say.

The Hancock County Commissioners agreed Tuesday to hire a consultant to look over all of the county’s structures to plan ahead for the next three to five years of expenses.

Part of a greater movement in the last couple of years to plan for capital improvements, the commissioners took the advice of financial consultant Greg Guerrettaz Tuesday and decided more should be done to look over the county’s buildings.

“We’ve got to be as transparent to the public as possible, and I think this is going to help us be,” Guerrettaz said. “I just feel like the liabilities that are out there are going to sneak up on us. We’ve got a little breathing room; I just want to keep that breathing room.”

Both the commissioners and the county council have wanted to plan ahead for expenses, expressing frustration every time a new repair or expense arises and they have to scramble to find a funding source to pay for it.

Last year, a study was conducted on the Hancock County Jail, revealing a 30-item wish list totaling $4 million in needed repairs. From that, commissioners decided to address the aging heating and cooling systems in the near future and tackle the rest of the problems later.

While the jail would not need to be studied again, Guerrettaz said a study on the rest of the county’s buildings – including the courthouse, annex and Purdue Extension building – could help local officials budget for expenses.

Commissioner Brad Armstrong agreed, but pointed out that surprise expenses could still arise. The study done on the jail and its aging locks did not point out rusted jail doors that recently needed to be replaced, for example.

“There’s always going to be something that we miss,” Commissioner President Derek Towle replied. “I don’t know how everybody can be 100 percent accurate all the time.”

Commissioners have been mulling a capital improvement plan for the county for the past two years. In 2012, county department heads were asked to make a list of major purchases they envisioned for the next five years, from new office chairs to copy machines. Also that year, a study was released pinpointing $1 million of costs over the next 30 years to make the county more accessible to people with disabilities.

Commissioners say they’re getting a good handle on what each department needs, upcoming road improvements and even large capital projects like a new fairgrounds. What they don’t have, they say, is a comprehensive list of each building’s infrastructure problems.

“We don’t even have a countywide maintenance person,” Armstrong said. “It’s our responsibility as a board, but we don’t have a go-to person that coordinates all of the buildings.”

Fortunately the courthouse was recently renovated, commissioners said, and the annex is still fairly new. While they agreed they should find a consultant within the next month to study the county’s buildings, they did not decide who to hire or how much to pay.

“We need to start accumulating money for major repairs on buildings, and we need to have a plan for doing that,” said Commissioner Tom Stevens. “The facilities is really what we need to be focusing on.”

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